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03.14.2007
Grimshaw to Green The Bronx
Affordable housing initiative introduces sustainable living

A brownfield in the South Bronx is about to be greened, thanks to a sustainable housing competition conducted by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and AIA New York. An architect-developer team consisting of Grimshaw Architects, Dattner Architects, Phipps Houses, and Jonathan Rose Companies won the competition with a proposal to design 202 units of housing along with commercial and open space on a long, narrow 60,000-acre site. The city is giving the property, a vacant lot and abandoned rail right of way, to the development team for $1 to underwrite the project’s affordability requirement.

Named Via Verde, or the Green Way, the project includes an 18-story tower, midrise units, and townhouses, “threaded like a ribbon through the site,” said Vincent Chang, senior architect at Grimshaw’s New York office. More than half of the housing, which is a mix of rentals and units for sale, will be reserved for low-income residents, with the remaining portion set aside for moderateand middle-income residents.“We were keen to create a sense of continuity across unit types,” he said, though the facades of each building volume will use varied materials in a prefabricated, extra-insulated cladding system.

The buildings are arranged around the perimeter of the site, creating a courtyard in the middle. Green roofs and gardens are designed for each building, and the terraced building heights allow for travel between each building volume. Geothermal groundloops for heating and cooling, photovoltaics, daylighting and cross ventilation, and an on-site farmer’s market will be employed so that the project can achieve LEED Gold certification. While this might seem like using every trick in the green bag, Chang stressed that the approach is “holistic.” Practical steps such as granting residents control over the HVAC systems in their units so they can better monitor their individual energy usage combine innovative sustainable technology with thrift and common sense.

“We thought a lot about the sense of community and vibrancy in an urban environment,” said Chang, “however, in those environments access to nature is often lacking, so that really became the driving force of the design.” The team is working with the landscape architect Lee Weintraub to design a series of passive, productive, and recreational gardens, green roofs, and open spaces that will be open to every unit, which will also provide insulation and reduce storm water run-off.

The Grimshaw/Dattner/Phipps/Rose team prevailed over four other notable teams, including: Rogers Marvel with BRP Development Team and the Bluestone Organization; Magnusson Architecture and Planning and Kiss + Cathcart with the Dermot Company, Nos Quedamos, and Melrose Associates; Behnisch Architekten and studioMDA with seg, Full Spectrum, and Hamlin Ventures; and Cook + Fox with Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation and Durst Sunset. Thirty-two architect-developer teams responded to the request for qualifications, which were reviewed by a jury that included Enrique Norton, principal, TEN Arquitectos; David Burney, Commissioner New York City Department of Design and Construction; Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr.; and Shaun Donovan, commissioner of HPD.

“Any project that adds this many units of affordable housing is going to make its mark,” said Lance Jay Brown, a professor of architecture at CUNY and one of the competition organizers. “But we feel like we raised the bar and have begun to open up the debate as to what people can expect from affordable, sustainable housing.”

“We were so honored to be among the company of the finalists,” said Chang. “We can’t wait to get started.” Construction is expected to begin in mid 2008.
 

Alan G. Brake